LONDON (AP) — Several British lawmakers, including former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, tried to rally support Friday ahead of a short, intense contest to replace Liz Truss as the country’s leader.
Truss stopped on Thursday after a turbulent 45-day term, admitting she couldn’t deliver on her tax-cutting plans.
The Conservative Party is in an accelerated race to replace her, with a new leader – who also becomes prime minister – to be elected within a week.
Former Treasury chief Rishi Sunak and House of Commons leader Penny Mordaunt are among the bookmakers’ favorites – along with Johnson, who was forced to resign by the party just over three months ago after becoming entangled in scandals over his ethics and finances. His return would be a remarkable resurrection for a politician who is equally popular and polarizing.
Johnson, who remained a legislator after he stepped down as prime minister, has not said whether he will run for office, but his allies in parliament are working to rally support.
The nominations for a new leader close on Monday afternoon and candidates will need the signatures of 100 of the 357 conservative lawmakers, meaning a maximum of three. Lawmakers will vote to eliminate one of those, and will hold an indicative vote on the latter two. The party’s 172,000 members will then decide between the two finalists in an online vote. The new leader will be elected on October 28.
Sunak, who came second to Truss in a leadership contest over the summer, is favored by some as a safe pair of hands that can stabilize the struggling economy. Mordaunt, who came in third, is popular with the grassroots.
But the wildcard in the contest is Johnson, who is adored by some in the party as a proven vote winner with a rare communal touch, and taunted by others for the chaos and scandal that marred his three years in office.
Johnson ally Nadine Dorries said the party should choose him because “he is a known winner” who led the Conservatives to a major election victory in 2019.
“Having a winner is what the party needs to survive,” she told Sky News.
But some other Conservative lawmakers said they would leave the party if Johnson – who faces an ongoing investigation by a standards committee over whether he lied to parliament – returns as leader.
“I don’t see any way forward in government, at any level, for someone under that kind of scrutiny, and I think this is very divisive,” Tory lawmaker Roger Gale told Times Radio. “And I think there would be people, indeed like me, who would be in a terrible position to lay down the conservative whip.”
The party’s second leadership contest this year comes after Truss became the shortest-serving prime minister in British history. She was elected leader by the Conservatives early last month after party elections to replace Johnson.
trusses economic package on the free market shaky financial markets, driving up the cost of government loans and housing mortgages, and forcing an emergency intervention from the Bank of England. Truss performed a series of U-turns and replaced her Treasury chief, but faced rebellion from lawmakers in her party.
Truss admitted on Thursday that “I cannot live up to the mandate to which I was elected by the Conservative Party.”
The new leader will become Britain’s third prime minister this year, and Conservative unrest is fueling demand for national elections. Under the British parliamentary system, that need not be until 2024, five years after the 2019 contest won by the Conservatives under Johnson.
Opposition politicians say the uproar since then — and Truss’ decision to tear up many of the policies Johnson was elected on — means the government lacks democratic legitimacy.
Opinion polls suggest that if elections were held now it would be a downfall for the Conservatives, with the left-wing Labor party gaining a large majority.
Labor leader Keir Starmer accused the Conservatives of chairing a ‘revolving door of chaos’.
“This is doing tremendous damage to our economy and our country’s reputation,” he said. “We have to have a chance at a fresh start. We need general elections now.”
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